The 75-year-old footballer doing Harrogate proud for England and Harrogate Town

Veteran footballer Lawrie Coulthard is basking in the glory of  being the first player from Harrogate Town to represent his country at international level - and he didn’t have to run a single yard.

By Graham Chalmers
Friday, 21st January 2022, 11:02 am
Updated Friday, 21st January 2022, 11:06 am
Harrogate Town's walking footballer Lawrie Coulthard, 75, who has played in midfield at international level.
Harrogate Town's walking footballer Lawrie Coulthard, 75, who has played in midfield at international level.

The 75-year-old retired civil servant first took up the non-contact, no running sport of walking football as a way of keeping fit after a fellow member of Harrogate Male Voice Choir invited him to come along to a session at Harrogate Town one Thursday afternoon in 2017.

At the time, Lawrie had no idea his new passion would end up with a moment to treasure - playing for the England team against the Republic of Ireland in a match which also saw a prominent role for his own grandchildren.

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Harrogate Town's walking footballer Lawrie Coulthard in action on the pitch for England.

Lawrie said: “It was an immensely proud moment for me when all five of my grandchildren were chosen to be England mascots at our recent match against the Republic of Ireland at Rayners Lane Football Club in Harrow.

“It was an amazing experience to line up to sing our national anthem, but to have all my grandchildren standing in the same line up singing with me and by England colleagues was incredible.

“I don’t think their presence made me play any better, but it certainly added an edge to my game. It is something I will treasure for the rest of

my life.”

That match in October was, in fact, Lawrie’s fourth England cap since he first took up walking football, a sport which is played on a quarter size pitch with smaller goals and rules that eliminate most of the more punishing elements of the ‘Beautiful Game’.

As a sport easily accessible for men and women, walking football is expanding rapidly across the world, with the introduction of inter-club competitions and friendly matches and the ultimate introduction to play Walking Football on an international scale.

Having played football since he was a boy growing up in Gateshead - he was a member of the first schoolboy team in his town to win the Durham County Cup in 1962 - Lawrie was delighted to find as he grew older that walking football allowed him to overcome the rigours of time to maintain his love of the game in an enjoyable way.

It’s an activity he would recommend to everyone.

“In walking football the normal rules of football have been adjusted to accommodate both men and women with varying abilities to enjoy, on a level playing field, the experience of playing.

“It is basically a non-contact sport where ‘running’ is penalised with awarding a free kick to the opposition. Persistent running results in sin-binning and ultimately a sending off.

“It certainly brought back all the enjoyment that the beautiful game provided when I was young.

“But it also helps with our fitness/exercise, social interaction, self-esteem, fulfilment, satisfaction and mindfulness.”

Harrogate Town’s role in the story of Lawrie’s successful return to the football pitch well past the age of retirement cannot be under-estimated.

This unlikely football star, who usually plays in midfield, cites how the club’s Community Section headed by Iain Senior has turned walking football from a recreational kick-a-about on the 3G Astroturf surface on their Wetherby Road pitch, prior to their promotion to the English Football League Division Two, to an exceptionally well organised and progressive sport and an essential part the local community.

“I will be forever grateful to Harrogate Town Football Club for providing the opportunity to stay fit, socialise with fellow players, and to recapture the enjoyment of kicking a ball about with purpose, as we did when we were younger.

“The club has reached out to many local residents who, because of their age or physical limitations are unable to play the game that they love.”

Walking football is generally played by the over 50s.

In the case of Harrogate Town, the club has a 50’s team and a 60’s team which both play competitively in the Northern Premier League, though it is also open to players of all ages and abilities, including those who are new to the game.

Despite his glory at a national level, Lawrie continues to train each Thursday with his fellow football ‘walkers’ each Thursday night at Rossett Sports Centre and when, required, training sessions for England held at The Trico Stadium, which is normally home to Redditch United.

He’s keeping his fingers crossed that it turns out to be a big year ahead for himself and the national team which has fixtures against Wales and Ireland.

Not that there’s much chance of the veteran footballer being blinded by glory; he’s even dedicating one of his England caps to the club.

Lawrie is also thankful for the role the club is playing supporting one of the younger members of his family’s love of football.

One of his grandchildren, eight-year-old Joe has started playing in Harrogate Town’s Player Development Centre (PDC) which offers boys from under-8 to under-17 the opportunity to access additional high-quality football coaching and support relevant to their development stage.

Lawrie says his involvement in walking football has been a great source of comfort even in the hardest times.

“It is important when living alone, that one has something to focus on each week, as well as playing in weekend inter-club competitions.

“It really does help with our socialising and impacts hugely and positively on improving mindfulness,” Lawrie said.

Only one thing was missing for Lawrie in that famous 4-0 victory over the Republic of Ireland last year, the one thing he misses the most, his late wife Sheila.

“Being involved with Harrogate Town’s Walking Football Group has helped me overcome the loss after 48 years of my dear wife Sheila, who unselfishly encouraged me to continue with England trials even during her darkest days with ovarian cancer .

“She was a brave Kerry-born lady and it was poignant that she left us on St Patrick’s Day on March 17, 2020.”